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Altered Environments

The Outer Banks of North Carolina

Jeffrey Pompe

Publication Year: 2012

The constant assault of natural forces make fragile barrier islands some of the most rapidly changing locations in the world, but human activities have had enormous impact on these islands as well. In Altered Environments, Jeffrey and Kathleen Pompe explore the complex interactions between nature and human habitation on the resilient Outer Banks of North Carolina. The Pompes employ modern and historical photographs and maps to illustrate the geographic and ecologic changes that have taken place on the Outer Banks, evaluating efforts to preserve these lands and also meet the evolving needs of a growing population. The Pompes examine the various forces that have created an environment so very different from the Outer Banks of only a few decades ago. The defining event in the reshaping of the islands for expanded development was the dune-construction project of the 1930s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a wall of self-sustaining dunes along 125 miles of Outer Banks shoreline in an effort to stave off beach erosion. This event created a historical demarcation in conservation efforts and heralded the beginning of a period of rapid economic development for the Outer Banks. The construction project reshaped the islands' geography to accomplish perceived economic advantages and prepared the Outer Banks for the last half of the twentieth century, when tourists increasingly visited this shore, bringing corresponding developments in their wake. The dune-restoration project is just one of the Pompes' examples of how human actions have altered the islands to meet the demands of a growing number of visitors and residents. While Altered Environments focuses on the Outer Banks, the narrative also considers social, environmental, and economic issues that are relevant to much of the seashore. Most coastal communities face similar problems, such as natural disasters and shoreline erosion, and in recent decades rapid population growth has exacerbated many conservation problems. Real-estate developments, the fisheries industry, tourism, climate change, and oil exploration all come under scrutiny in this investigation. Using the Outer Banks as a case study to frame a host of environmental challenges faced along the Atlantic seaboard today, the Pompes provide a valuable commentary on the historical context of these concerns and offer some insightful solutions that allow for sustainable communities.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Our fascination with the Outer Banks began when we first visited the islands twenty years ago. As we revisited the Outer Banks over the years, we soon recognized that the interaction between nature and humankind created a narrative that invited reflection and study. ...

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One: A Place Created by Change

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pp. 1-9

Not much wider than 3 miles at the broadest place and barely 100 yards at the narrowest point, the Outer Banks consists of a succession of narrow islands that shelter the North Carolina mainland from the sea for more than 175 miles. At the northernmost section of the Outer Banks, Currituck Banks and Bodie Island, which are connected, ...

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Two: Change by Nature

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pp. 10-20

Before humans ever set foot on the Outer Banks, nature’s forces made change an integral part of the physical environment. The persistent winds and enormous energy released by breaking waves make the ocean coastline one of the fastest changing places on earth. ...

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Three: Change by Humankind

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pp. 21-38

In the mid–fourteenth century Europeans were enjoying a steady stream of luxury goods such as spices, silks, and dyestuffs, which were produced in Arab and Turkish lands. Many of the goods moved through Italian ports, especially Genoa and Venice, where merchants grew wealthy by extracting monopolistic fees from the trade. ...

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Four: Understanding the “Sea of Troubles” Facing Coastal Communities

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pp. 39-67

Economic growth and development have changed the Outer Banks rapidly in recent decades. Unfortunately sometimes the development damages the island environment. In order to understand why we spoil coastal areas that we value so much, we must understand how incentives affect decision makers. ...

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Five: Attempts at Controlling Change by Nature

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pp. 68-81

The forces of nature are similar in some ways to forces that operate in the market economy. The market system does a great balancing act of allocating scarce resources to the uses that society values most highly. In the marketplace consumers and producers act independently to determine the market equilibrium price. ...

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Six: Living with Change in Coastal Communities

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pp. 82-104

Physical processes such as storms, waves, and wind make coastlines some of the most changeable places on the earth’s surface. The change caused by a particular force, such as the 1846 hurricane that struck Portsmouth Island, can be both immediate and deferred. Human activities can alter barrier islands as well. ...

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Seven: Time and Chance

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pp. 105-118

Often communities develop at specific locations because some natural features promote commerce. Port cities, for example, develop in locations that offer ships deepwater harbors and shelter from storms. The first major cities in the United States were port cities—such as New York, Charleston, and New Orleans—that prospered because of the shipping trade. ...

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Eight: An Apprenticeship with Change

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pp. 119-128

As the history of Portsmouth Island illustrates, the well-being of Outer Bankers is linked to the changing island environment; this is true today just as when humans first visited the islands. In addition to this connection, the landforms of the Outer Banks are valuable for many reasons. ...


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pp. 129-136


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pp. 137-146


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pp. 147-153

E-ISBN-13: 9781611172140
Print-ISBN-13: 9781570039232

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2012